The Once Upon a Time III Challenge has a “Short Story Weekend” mini-challenge, so I thought I’d visit some fairy tales. To my surprise, the copy of Charles Perrault’s Complete Fairy Tales that I found was less than 200 pages and written for children, so I breezed through all of them very quickly. Many of Perrault’s stories are retellings of other’s stories. My favorite was “Beauty and the Beast.”
Beauty and the Beast
My all-time favorite story in this slim volume was “Beauty and the Beast.” The heroine of this story is Beauty, who is caring and sincere in all her actions and rightly deserves the “happily ever after” of the story. Beauty’s story differs from the Disney version. I much prefer the Perrault version, for Beauty is more likeable. Besides, the story, while still magical, holds a sincerity that is lacking in Disney. Note that my summary below provides “spoilers.”
Beauty is the youngest and prettiest of a rich merchant’s six children. Beauty’s two older sisters are quite arrogant and unpleasant, while Beauty is polite and delightful. As a result, many of the town gentlemen court Beauty, while the sisters are ignored, thus encouraging her older sisters to be very jealous. But instead of marrying, Beauty wishes to remain with her lonely father. When he loses his fortune, Beauty determines to be happy:
“However much I cry, I shall not recover my wealth,” she says, “so I must try to be happy without it.” (page 115).
Beauty works hard at their new home in the country, while her sisters are lazy, wishing for riches and luxury and pitying themselves. When her father goes on a business trip, hoping to recover some fortune, the older sisters greedily ask for many fancy things, while Beauty asks only for a rose: “Beauty had no real craving for a rose, but she was anxious not to seem to disparage the conduct of her sisters” (page 116).
The father fails to recover his wealth, and on his return home, he is lost late at night. Coming upon a lighted palace, he enters to find a table spread with dinner and a bed prepared for him. Despite not seeing any host, he feasts and rests. The next morning, as he departs, he sees a beautiful rose bush and picks a rose, remembering the selfless request of his youngest daughter.
Of course, this angers the Beast, who has secretly been the old man’s host in the palace. The old man is taken prisoner and condemned to die for his foolish act, until the Beast learns that the rose was for his daughter.
“Well, I am willing to pardon you if one of your daughters will come, of her own choice, to die in your place,” the Beast declares (page 119).
The old man departs, never intending to send his daughter in his place. But when Beauty hears the story of the dearly bought rose, she determines to give herself in her father’s place. Her loving older brothers try to stop her, but she goes anyway.
From the beginning, the Beast always treats Beauty kindly. And every night for three months, as they dine together, he asks her to marry him. While Beauty has come to appreciate the Beast and his sincere kindness, she is still repelled at the thought of his ugliness and always declines, thinking, “What a pity he is so ugly, for he is so good.” (page 126).
The Beast has a magic mirror, in which Beauty can look on her family. She longs to visit her father; since the marriage of his two oldest daughters, he has been left alone and he mourns every night for Beauty, who he assumes dead. Upon expressing her grief to the Beast, he allows her to return to her father:
“I would rather die myself than cause you grief …” the Beast says. “You shall stay with [your father], and your Beast shall die of sorrow at your departure.”
Beauty mourns at that and determines to go for just a week. When she is with her father, however, she forgets the Beast and stays longer than a week. When she looks in the magic mirror much belatedly, she sees the Beast dying of grief. In panic, she returns, mourning her friend. And as she mourns him, she realizes that she loves him:
“It is neither good looks nor brains in a husband that make a woman happy; it is beauty of character, virtue, kindness. All these qualities the Beast has” (page 130).
And when she tells the dying Beast so much, promising to be his wife, he becomes a prince (“more beautiful than Love himself”) before her eyes, for he had been condemned by a wicked fairy to be ugly until a girl consented to marry him.
I love “Beauty and the Beast” because it is a story of what sincere love is: it isn’t about love at first sight, but rather about true love of personality. Beauty and the Beast have become friends. I loved Beauty’s selflessness. I felt she was the most loveable character in all the fairy tales I’ve read, for she was sincere in both wanting to do good and recognizing the good in others. Even though her sisters were insincere and rude, she still served them. And even though she was mocked for her habits (like reading lots of books!), she still loved life and herself. Beauty is a true role model.
In contrast, Disney’s Belle was concerned with fitting in and concerned with looking for adventure; Disney’s Beast had a rude temper and seemed all-around unlikeable. The enchanted furniture in the palace was entertaining, but in the end, I much prefer Perrault’s characters.
Other Perrault Stories
Perrault’s Complete Fairy Tales totaled fourteen in this volume, including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Puss in Boots. I much preferred reading Perrault’s fairy tales to reading those by the brothers Grimm (thoughts here). Perrault’s were gentler. While they did were more didactic (with “morals” at the end), they also tended toward happy endings. They also seemed to be written directly for children, even though they claim to be a direct translation from the French. Maybe my volume of Grimm was more of a “complete” collection and/or a correct translation, but they didn’t seem directed for children at all.
Which is your favorite Perrault fairy tale? Did you like Beauty, the Disney version or otherwise?
Have you compared Perrault to the brothers Grimm? Which style of fairy tale do you prefer?